Paddle Around Puerto Rico Complete

Mike Simpson refuels on his journey around Puerto Rico. Photo: Will Taylor
Mike Simpson refuels on his journey around Puerto Rico. Photo: Will Taylor

Paddle Around Puerto Rico Complete

Mike Simpson liked Puerto Rico. So he decided to paddle around it. “It’s a perfect square and isn’t that big and I just thought I should paddle around it,” he told us.

Last Sunday, March 2, Simpson finished doing just that, along with local Puerto Rican paddler Meldrick Velez, who originally planned to paddle with Simpson for a day or two and ended up completing the 278-mile journey with him.

It wasn’t without its challenges: extremely rare wind directions, harsh currents and big, messy seas set them back a number of times as they continued on their trip. What was originally expected to be a 10-day paddle ballooned to sixteen. Simpson is no stranger to these setbacks though, and adapted accordingly thanks to the help of Velez’s family, local paddler Pablo Cabral and a host of other local Puerto Ricans.

Meldrick Velez and Simpson launch for a 35-mile day on the water.
Meldrick Velez and Simpson launch for a 35-mile day on the water.

The plan was originally to paddle east out of Condado Lagoon in San Juan and wrap around the island until they returned to Condado Lagoon in 10-12 days. The reality quickly caught up with them with harsh headwinds for the first two days and big swells on a series off offshore reefs didn’t let them round the corner on the northeast side of the island at Loiza. In a game-time decision they decided to head down the coast where the wind would be over the shoulder. They would come back to complete this stretch another day.

I met up with Simpson and Velez 11 days into their journey. They were back in San Juan, the biggest city on the island, resting and recuperating for the completion of their journey. Simpson’s foot had filled up with lactic acid the day before and they’d been hit with an extreme west wind on the west side of the island—something that only happens a couple times a year. It was time for a mental and physical break.

During their rest I got geared up and packed with help from local shop Velauno Paddleboarding. The next day we paddled out of Condado Lagoon—the second time for Simpson and Velez—and headed west across the north side of the island. I found out first hand what the others already knew: the waters around Puerto Rico are not gentle, especially on a board loaded with all your camping gear. A 20-25 knot over-the-shoulder wind picked up along with stout backwash coming offshore, making riding bumps more challenging than it already is. We did 23 miles that day—a short one by their standards—and slept in hammocks on the beach in Puerto Nuevo with mosquitoes buzzing in our ears.

The team finishes the day strong.
The team finishes the day strong.

Four days later, Simpson and Velez paddled 20 miles of glassy waters over offshore reefs and between offshore islands to finish their 278-mile journey where they’d run into the impassable reefs off Loiza. Velez’s family was waiting to take them to celebrate. Their mission—broken up by wind and water conditions and facilitated by the beautiful island of Puerto Rico and its hospitable people—was over. The only question was what to do next.

Check out SUP magazine’s Gear Guide, on newsstands May 9, for the full feature on Simpson and Velez’s adventure.

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